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Blinky Moon Boys - Moonlite Theatre (CD, 2004)
by Jerome Clark, 12/13/2004
Something about the very name of this band evokes a chuckle. What could have inspired it? All we’re given is this cryptic clue: “The name actually comes from a joke that was told about the goings on at a ‘Blinky Moon Tourist Court’ in Williamsburg, Kentucky.” Hmmm. The absence of further information leads one to suspect that the joke is not suited to bluegrass’ wholesome image. Damn.
These are guys who manage not to take themselves too seriously. The (well-informed) liner notes are also very funny, starting with the above. Of their revival of Jim Reeves’s 1960 hit “I’ve Lived a Lot,” the Blinky Mooners offer the bitter lament that “we couldn’t find any girls with big hair to sing backup.” The old-time “Don’t Go Out Tonight” is from a woman’s point of view, but “we thought it over and decided we’re comfortable enough with our masculinity to give this one a try.” How could you not like them even before you’ve heard them?
Put the CD on, and you hear five mostly youngish though impressively credentialed men with a strong taste for tough, traditional bluegrass and the vocal and instrumental chops to pull it off. Ordinarily, I am wont to complain at the inclusion of familiar or too-familiar material, and it is true that here Stanley Brothers/Ralph Stanley songs are a significant presence. That’s no doubt a consequence of the band members’ living in three different states. One supposes that their chances to rehearse are limited and they tend to the tried and true when they do get together. I think, however, that I will eschew the complaining, because the Blinky Mooners do these songs – “I Only Exist,” “Next Sunday, Darling, Is My Birthday,” “Girl Behind the Bar,” and the like – with such perfect soulfulness and dead-on harmonizing that it would take a tinner ear and a more churlish heart than mine to press the point.
Still, the Blinky Moon shines especially brightly on the less often recorded numbers, notably the heart-wrenching folk ballad “Shut up in the Mines of Coal Creek” (from a real-life disaster which took place in Tennessee in 1902) and Si Kahn’s lovely but pointed “Go to Work on Monday.” I’ve never heard a more affecting bluegrass version of the former (ordinarily sung unaccompanied in the old mountain style), and Kahn’s politically edged song, a real find, ought to be standard in the bluegrass repertoire.
Guitarist Jeff Huss and mandolinist Darin Lawrence take lead-vocal duties, putting to rest whatever fears remain that hard-core, from-the-heart bluegrass singing is an endangered species. They’re ably supported by fiddler Tom Brantley, banjo picker Lynn Dugger, and bassist Bill Ledbetter. Bands like the Blinky Moon Boys always remind me – sometimes in the nick of time -- why after all these years I continue to make bluegrass a part of my life.